Tuesday, 9 August 2022

Next gathering for reverence for Didymus - face to face at last, Sunday 14 August 2022

Our next gathering for reverence is at the Meeting House, 22 Meeting House Lane, Ringwood BH24 1EY on Sunday, 14 August, arriving from 1015 for a service start at 1030.

Unitarians insist on personal and fresh takes, even on respected writings, whilst recognizing that some ideas go round and round, and rarely is anything truly new.

If you would like to find out for yourself what sort of gathering we hold, email this address to chat about whether what we do would suit you:


Saturday, 30 July 2022

Gathering for Reverence 12 June 2022 - Jesus and the Law and Prophets

Just in case you haven’t read any of our other posts, some are think pieces and some are reports of the gatherings we have held.

For those that are reports of gatherings we have held, it may appear that our gatherings are centred on the reflection given by the person presiding for the day (the president).  In fact, our gatherings are centred around a few bits of practice that we do together, of which only one is to listen to a reflection.  The other, perhaps more useful bits of practice are listening to music, singing, keeping a shared silence (for our own private purposes, such as meditation, decompression, prayer, cogitation), listening to words of wisdom that have survived thousands of years, reciting some agreed words together.  It is easy to see that a reflection by just some person who happens to be there at the time may actually be the least important bit of the whole proceedings.

So, when you read this blog, the reflection assumes an importance it might not really have.  And yet it’s all you have, if you’re not able to come to our gatherings.  I’ll just leave you with that conundrum.  Meanwhile, please take all the other activities as a given, as you have a quick read of what was said.

In the June gathering, we had two readings.  The first was from the Hebrew Bible, in the books of Deuteronomy and Micah (Deuteronomy chapter 5 verses 1-22 & Micah chapter 6 verses 6-8).  It can be summed up as a listing of the famed Ten Commandments, tempered by an observation by the prophet Micah.

The second reading was a combination from the Hebrew and Christian Bibles (Deuteronomy chapter 6 verses 4-5, Leviticus chapter 19 verse 18, & Mark chapter 12 verses 29-31).  This was basically one of the most famous and important sayings of Jesus, preceded by the Hebrew Bible sources that Jesus would have known and which he may have been making reference to.

And the reflection on these readings follows, with the normal caveat that the readings are being looked at, not as immutable words in a framework of belief that we all hold, but, as possible sources of inspiration in our ever changing position on shifting sands, as we journey on in our company together.

“Let’s notice that seven of the Ten Commandments are things God requires people not to do, contrasting with only two commandments being things that are to be done — which are honouring elders and the wisdom they bring, for survival’s sake; and having regular rest every seventh day, for well-being’s sake.  

“So it can be argued that this is actually a very liberal contract between God and the people.  It says that providing you use the handed-down knowledge, and care for those who bring it, provided you care for your own well-being, and providing you avoid doing the few other things listed, you can largely do what you like.  

“Micah, on the other hand, thought there was more to say.  Micah put a style overlay on top of the message that you must act in accordance with the rules: Micah said you must also be kind, be humble. 

“The first five books of the Hebrew Bible contain many other strictures and rules about living, rules which were largely aimed at some form of purity.  Purity of heart, purity of marriage, purity of the relationship between the tribes, purity of the priests who administered the sacred rituals, they go on and on. When we add onto those all the side commentaries, the rich interpretations, that the wise teachers living the Jewish faith added alongside the Hebrew Bible, it could be felt that the rules applying to Jewish people are actually anything but liberal, anything but simple.  Indeed, it could be felt as very constraining.  

“I remember a conversation in the 1990s with a friend, about a work colleague of his who was also a rabbi.  This rabbi was always being accosted by one or other of his congregants with questions — such as how one should eat a custard cream biscuit.  The story pivoted around the legalities of food mixing and food preparation.  As I understood it, the problem with a custard cream biscuit lies in its three-layered, sandwiched nature  biscuit, cream, biscuit.  I think I was being told that, being of different food types, the biscuit layers and the cream layer couldn’t be eaten together.  Worse, it seemed that it was legal to remove biscuit layer from the cream centre, but not to remove the cream layer from the biscuit .... The rabbi was no doubt exaggerating and having fun with his colleague (and remotely, me too), but he had made his point.

“So there were all these laws, which had accreted significantly by the time of Jesus.  It is attributed to Jesus that he said that he came not to sweep away the law and the prophets but rather to fulfil them (Matthew 5:17). Traditional Christians have taken this to mean that he — Jesus in his person, in his character, in his make up, in his very being — somehow is the very point of the law and the prophets.  That Jesus is somehow the bringing to life or fruition of the law and the prophets.

“Unitarians do not take this view. Perhaps that’s an outrageous generalization — I have heard very few Unitarians comment on what Jesus might have meant — or rather, what Unitarians think the authors of the Gospels might have had in mind when they attributed those words to Jesus.

“So might not the Jesus character have meant, 'Look! We already have the law and the prophets, there's nothing more to be given, by way of direct instruction.  But yet we all struggle with it.  Well, I've got a few ideas about what fully living within (not just the letter but also the spirit of) the law and the prophets might actually look like; what living devoutly in covenant with God might entail on a minute-by-minute basis.  I come not to sweep away the law and the prophets but to make your covenant with God fit a wider perspective and to make it more real in your daily lives.' ?

“Moreover, we see Jesus speaking in metaphoric terms, non-legalistic, non-precise.  'You do not light a lantern and hide it under a bowl.  You set it up on a stand where it will light the whole room.' (Matthew 5:15, Luke 8:16, Luke 11:33).  What was that supposed to mean to people who were used to hearing: on such and such a day you must do this and then you must clean the knife in this way according to the teaching of the certain rabbi and after you've done that you must pour the oil and set it aside in a container... etc etc etc. ?

“Again, this character Jesus is written so as to perplex people, with riddles, with stories about imaginary, unlikely characters.  For instance, a son who persuades his father, against all convention, to give him his birthright — his inheritance — early.  Who then squanders it all, yet is welcomed back again by the father (Luke 15:11-32).  This is an imaginary tale.  

“An outsider, an alien, someone normally shunned, is the only one who stops to help a severely mugged man at the roadside (Luke 10:25-37).  This is an imaginary tale.  

“A comment that unless you become as little children (Matthew 18:3) — “Did he just say we must be born again?” — you cannot encounter God. This is an impossible circumstance. 

“A comment that it’s more difficult to find the kingdom than it is for a cable to go through the eye of a needle (Mark 5:25-26, Jubilee Bible 2000).  “Then who can be saved?” asks an incredulous audience, for this is an impossible circumstance.

“These words of Jesus are not legal instructions.  These are challenges to move beyond the law.  To break out of our thought patterns.

“These are challenges to live a whole life, an integrated life, a life of one-through-ness, by way of dismantling our own assumptions about where justice and mercy lie in any given situation.  These are challenges to think about what it means in any moment to be in right relationship, humble and neat and clean and innocent before God.  Humbly walking with God, loving kindness, doing justice.

“Jesus may or may not have lived; he may or may not have been one person.  But, as written, he may be understood as the voice of a wisdom that demands that whilst we know the law of goodness, commitment and conscience we must know also the limits of that law.  A wisdom that demands we seek ever to move beyond law to that unique fulfilment, that ‘bringing to life’, which only we, each and every one of us, can live. 

“A wisdom that advises that we spend our lives challenging our own assumptions and our own behaviours so that we do indeed fulfil — not the law, but — what is pointed at by the law and the prophets.”

“To live is to care

may it be given to us 

to care

and when our need is greatest 

may care be also shown to us — 

not because we have earned it

through act of goodness or strength

nor because we have bought it

by virtue of wealth 

but because we nonetheless 

deserve it 

by grace of our 

nearness to holiness 

closer than the pulse in our own neck

that divine spark which we embody

our inspiration of that breath which we have inherited

that breath which unites us 

to one another 

and to all breathing creatures.”

Rev Jo James, Mill Hill Chapel, Leeds, 29 May 2022

Wednesday, 22 June 2022

The clock is ticking - everything counts but nothing matters



It has been known for some time that the end for Earth will come when the sun flares up prior to its final collapse.  All will end.  And yet, despite that knowledge, we have seen worth in living generous, virtuous lives along our way - or the way of humankind - towards this final collapse.

It's not that we haven't believed that the world will end in the way Professor Brian Cox and others on the mainstream media have clearly explained to us.  It's that we nonetheless think we can live while we walk towards dying, rather than just sit in the gutter bewailing the final fate of the globe and everything on it.

Faith systems enjoin us to recognise we have an end coming, yet we can and should - for our own well-being during our brief stay here - strive to live good lives: bringing into our connected thinking everyone and all creatures; governing justly; and relieving all forms of poverty.

I admit that, until some years back, I thought I would not see the end of the great human experience and experiment in my lifetime.  I was embarked on the path of 'striving to live in good faith' while here but seeing it as being far over the horizon.  Millions of years away.

Well: I now see a strong likelihood that human life as I know it will disappear only shortly after what I had been content to consider my natural span (which may turn out to be shorter than I had thought).  But does that change anything?

Does it change my thinking, my believing, my behaviour?  Why should it?  Nothing has actually changed, except the timespan.

The clock is ticking.  Everything we do now counts.  

Ultimately, nothing matters.  The Earth is destined for utter destruction.  But let us be the best us we can be, doing the best we can for other creatures and for ourselves, for as long as we can.  Because that would be a good thing to do.